After a 2 1/2- day fling in the outside world, Ollie the bobcat returned to the National Zoo late Wednesday afternoon.
She had a cut on her left front paw and enough of life away from home, the zoo said.
She showed up, as the day was waning, near the zoo’s Bird House, not far from where she vanished Monday morning.
A zoo visitor spotted her running across a path about 4 p.m. and notified authorities, who hurried to the area and baited a capture trap.
Within 15 minutes, she had strolled into the trap, said Craig Saffoe, curator of great cats at the zoo. She was taken to the zoo hospital, where she was “100 percent safe and sound,” he said.
The zoo said it planned to examine her thoroughly for any diseases she might have picked up during her stay in the wild.
Saffoe said she probably hadn’t gone far, and “came right back home.”
“I think she wanted to go out, have a little bit of fun, see what it was like on the outside, [then] ‘I think I’m ready to come back inside now,’ ” he said.
Saffoe said he was “over the moon, thrilled.”
“When you find a member of your family, or you find somebody who’s been missing, it just kind of fills you with joy, crazy joy,” he said.
Finding a bobcat in the woods of Rock Creek Park, where she had fled, was “less of a chance than finding a needle in a haystack,” Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director for animal care sciences, said Wednesday evening.
“Our first instinct was ‘you know what, she’s going to go out, and she’s going to want to come back,’ ” Smith said. “And that’s exactly what she did. And we were ready for her the second that she came back.”
The zoo had announced earlier Wednesday that it had suspended its search for the 25-pound female.
For the past two days, a team of zookeepers, police officers at the zoo and rescue experts from the D.C. Humane Rescue Alliance had looked for her in vain.
The zoo said it received several reports from people saying they had seen Ollie in the nearby Cleveland Park and Woodley Park areas.
Saffoe said the zoo received a report of the cat under a car about 10 p.m. Tuesday, and staff and zoo police went to the scene. They “scoured the area for more than 45 minutes,” he said, but no Ollie.
“I don’t mean to be pessimistic at all but, we’re looking for a cat who could literally be sitting in a tree right next to us,” Saffoe had said Wednesday morning.
Bobcats are not aggressive with humans, and there was no danger to the public, experts said.
Still, 13 nearby schools canceled their outdoor recess Tuesday, out of caution. D.C. school officials said they lifted that ban Wednesday after they heard from the zoo and were assured “we are no longer in imminent danger.”
Ollie was last seen in her enclosure at 7:30 a.m. Monday. But when keepers returned about 10:40 a.m. for her breakfast, she was gone. The zoo declared a “code green” for an escaped animal.
It is believed that Ollie climbed out of her enclosure, which sits near Rock Creek Park, through a small opening in a mesh net around her area. In an inspection Monday, zookeepers noticed that one piece of the mesh was broken and that there was a hole that measured about 5-by-5 inches.
It has since been repaired.
Being an adept climber, Ollie would have been capable of climbing and crawling through the hole, experts said.
Bobcats eat mice, small deer, goats, chickens, rabbits and squirrels. They can run fast, climb well and leap into the air to grab low-flying birds.
It wasn’t the first time an animal has escaped from the zoo in recent years. In 2013, Rusty — a red panda — got out using overhanging tree branches. He was later found in a tree in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and nudged from his perch with a long pole.
That same year, a nonflying vulture named Natalie used a wind gust to soar out of her enclosure. She was caught moments later in a nearby parking lot.
Justin Wm. Moyer contributed to this report.